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Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy) Bird.

Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) online

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Ilbegi's youngest child, a dark, quiet, pale, wistful little
girl of four years old, a daintily-dressed little creature,
with a crimson velvet cap, and a green and crimson velvet



332 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER xiv

frock. She was gentle and confiding, and liked to remain
with me.

After a long conversation on subjects more or less
worth speaking upon, our hosts retired, to sleep under the
trees, leaving us to eat, and a number of servants brought
in a large karsi covered with food. Several yards of
blanket bread, or " flapjacks," served as a table-cloth, and
another for the dish-cover of a huge pillau in the centre.
Cruets, plates, knives and forks, iced water, Russian
lemonade, and tumblers were all provided. The dinner
consisted of pillau, lamb cutlets, a curried fowl, celery
with sour sauce, clotted cream, and sour milk. The
food was well cooked and clean, and the servants, rough
as they looked, were dexterous and attentive.

After dinner, by the llbegi's wish, I paid a visit-
to the ladies of his haram. Naghun rivals the other
villages of the tribes in containing the meanest and
worst permanent habitations I have ever seen. Isfandyar
Khan's house is a mud building surrounding a courtyard,
through which the visitor passes into another, round
which are the women's apartments. Both yards were
forlorn, uneven, and malodorous, from the heaps of offal
and rubbish lying under the hot sun. I was received by
fifteen ladies in a pleasant, clean, whitewashed apartment,
with bright rugs and silk-covered pillows on the floor,
and glass bottles and other ornaments in the takchahs.

At the top of the room I was welcomed, not by the
principal wife, but by a portly middle-aged woman, the
Khan's sister, and evidently the duenna of the haram, as
not one of the other women ventured to speak, or to offer
any courtesies. A chair was provided for me with a
karsi in front of it, covered with trays of gaz and other
sweetmeats. Mirza and a male attendant stood in the
doorway, and outside shoals of women and children on
tip-toe were struggling for a glance into the room.



LETTER xiv THE ILBEGI'S WIVES 333

Several slaves were present, coal-black, woolly -headed,
huge -mouthed negresses. The fifteen ladies held their
gay chadars to their faces so as to show only one eye, so
I sent Mirza behind a curtain and asked for the pleasure
of seeing their faces, when they all unveiled with shrieks
of laughter.

The result was disappointing. The women were all
young, or youngish, but only one was really handsome.
The wives are brunettes with long chins. They wore
gay chadars of muslin, short gold -embroidered jackets,
gauze chemises, and bright - coloured balloon trousers.
Three of the others wore black satin balloon trousers,
black silk jackets, yellow gauze vests, and black chadars
spotted with white. These three were literally moon-
faced, like the representations of the moon on old clocks,
a type I have not yet seen. All wear the hair brought
to the front, where it hangs in wavy masses on each side
of the face. They wore black silk gold -embroidered
skull-caps, set back on their heads, and long chains of
gold coins from the back to the ear, with two, three, or
four long necklaces of the same in which the coins were
very large and handsome. One wife, a young creature,
was poorly dressed, very dejected -looking, and destitute
of ornaments. Her mother has since pleaded for some-
thing " to bring back her husband's love." The eyebrows
were painted with indigo and were made to meet in a
point on the bridge of the nose. Each had one stained
or tattooed star on her forehead, three on her chin, and a
galaxy on the back of each hand.

Before Mirza reappeared they huddled themselves up
in their chadars and sat motionless against the wall as
before. After tea I had quite a lively conversation with
the Khan's sister, who has been to Basrah, Baghdad, and
Mecca.

Besides the usual questions as to my age, dyeing my



334 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER xiv

hair, painting my face, etc., with suggestions on the
improvement which their methods would make on my
eyes and eyebrows, she asked a little about my journeys,
about the marriage customs of England, about divorce, the
position of women with us, their freedom, horsemanship,
and amusements. She said, " We don't ride, we sit on
horses." Dancing for amusement she could not under-
stand. " Our servants dance for us," she said. The
dancing of men and women together, and the evening
dress of Englishwomen, she thought contrary to the
elementary principles of morality. I wanted them to have
their photographs taken, but they said, " It is not the
custom of our country ; no good women have their pictures
taken, we should have many things said against us if
we were made into pictures."

They wanted to give me presents, but I made my
usual excuse, that I have made a rule not to receive
presents in travelling; then they said that they would
go and see me in my tent at Chigakhor, their summer
quarters, and that I could not refuse what they took in
their own hands. They greatly desired to see the Agha,
of whose imposing physique they had heard, but they said
that the Khan would not like them to go to the garden,
and that their wish must remain ungratified. " We lead
such dull lives," the Khan's sister exclaimed ; " we never
see any one or go anywhere." It seems that the slightest
development of intellect awakens them to the con-
sciousness of this deplorable dulness, of which, fortunately,
the unawakened intelligence is unaware. As a fact, two
of the ladies have not been out of the Ardal valley, and
are looking forward to the migration to the Chigakhor
valley as to a great gaiety.

They asked me if I could read, and if I made carpets ?
They invariably ask if I have a husband and children,
and when I tell them that I am a widow and childless,



LETTER xiv A KINDLY HYPOCRISY 335

they simulate weeping for one or two minutes, a hypocrisy
which, though it proceeds from a kindly feeling, has a
very painful effect Their occupation in the winter is a
little carpet-weaving, which takes the place of our " fancy-
work." They also make a species of nougat, from the
manna found on the oaks on some of their mountains,
mixed with chopped almonds and rose-water. When I
concluded my visit they sent a servant with me with a
tray of this and other sweetmeats of their own making.

The party in the garden was a very merry one. The
Bakhtiaris love fun, and shrieked with laughter at many
things. This jollity, however, did not exclude topics of
interesting talk. During this time Karun, a handsome
chestnut Arab, and my horse Screw had a fierce fight, and
Karim, a Beloochi, in separating them had his arm severely
crunched and torn, the large muscles being exposed and
lacerated. He was brought in faint and bleeding, and in
great pain, and will not be of any use for some time.
The Agha asked the Ilbegi for two lads to go with him
to help his servants. The answer was, " We are a wander-
ing people, Bakhtiaris cannot be servants, but some of
our young men will go with you," and three brothers
joined us there, absolute savages in their ways. A cow
was offered for the march, and on the Agha jocularly
saying that he should have all the milk, the Ilbegi said
that I should have one to myself, and sent two. He
complained that I did not ask for anything, and said
that I was their guest so long as I was in their country,
and must treat them as brothers and ask for all I need.
" Don't feel as if you were in a foreign land " he said ; " we
love the English." I. L. B.



;;.-,.; JOl'llNKYS IN I'KIISIA Lun i



LETTER XV

ARDAL, May 14.

THE week spent here has passed rapidly. There is much
coming and going. My camp is by the side of a
frequented pathway, close to a delicious spring, much
resorted to by Ilyat women, who draw water in mussocks
and copper pots, and gossip there. The Dyata are on
the march to their summer quarters, and the steady tramp
of their flocks and herds and the bleating of their sheep
is heard at intervals throughout the nights. Sometimes
one of their horses or cows stumbles over the tent ropes
and nearly brings the tent down. Servants of the Ilkhani
with messages and presents of curds, celery pickled in
sour cream, and apricots, go to and fro. Sick people
come at intervals all day long, and the medicine chest is
in hourly requisition.

The sick are not always satisfied with occasional
visits to the Hakim's tent: a man, who has a little
daughter ill of jaundice, after coming twice for medicine,
has brought a tent, and has established himself in it with
his child close to me, and a woman with bad eyes has
also pitched a tent near mine ; at present thirteen people
come twice daily to have zinc lotion dropped into their
eyes. The fame of the "tabloids" has been widely
spread, and if I take common powders out of papers, or
liquids out of bottles, the people shake their heads and
say they do not want those, but " the fine medicines out of



LETTER xv THE ARDAL PLATEAU 337

the leather box." To such an extent is this preference
carried that they reject decoctions of a species of artemisia,
a powerful tonic, unless I put tabloids of permanganate of
potass (Condy's fluid) into the bottle before their eyes.

They have no idea of the difference between curable
and incurable maladies. Many people, stone blind, have
come long distances for eye-lotion, and to-night a man
nearly blind came in, leading a man totally blind for
eight years, asking me to restore his sight The blind
had led the blind from a camp twenty-four miles off!
Octogenarians believe that I can give them back their
hearing, and men with crippled or paralysed limbs think
that if I would give them some " Feringhi ointment," of
which they have heard, they would be restored. Some
come to stare at a Feringhi lady, others to see my tent,
which they occasionally say is " fit for Allah," and the
general result is that I have very little time to myself.

The Ardal plateau is really pretty at this season, and
I have had many pleasant evening gallops over soft green
grass and soft red earth. The view from the tent is
pleasant: on the one side the green slopes which fall
down to the precipices which overhang the Karun, with
the snowy mountains, deeply cleft, of the region which is
still a geographical mystery beyond them ; on the other,
mountains of naked rock with grass running up into
their ravines, and between them and me billows of grass
and wild flowers. A barley slope comes down to my
tent. The stalks are only six inches long, and the ears,
though ripe, contain almost nothing. Every evening a
servant of the Ilkhani brings three little wild boars to
feed on the grain. Farther down the path are the
servants' and muleteers' camps, surrounded by packing-
cases, yekdans, mule -bags, nose -bags, gear of all kinds,
and the usual litter of an encampment

The men, whether Indian, Persian, Beloochi, or
VOL. i z



338 JOURNEYS IN PKKSIA LETTER xv

Bakhtiari, are all quiet and well-behaved The motto of
the camps is " Silence is golden." Hadji Hussein is
quiet in manner and speech, and though he has seven
muleteers, yells and shouts are unknown.

There is something exciting in the prospect of travel-
ling through a region much of which is unknown and
unmapped, and overlooked hitherto by both geographical
and commercial enterprise ; and in the prospective good
fortune of learning the manners and customs of tribes
untouched by European influence, and about whose re-
ception of a Feringhi woman doleful prophecies have
been made.

Tur, May 18. The last day at Ardal was a busy
one. Several of the Khans called to take leave. I made
a farewell visit to the Ilkhani's haram ; people came for
medicines at intervals from 5 A.M. till 9 P.M. ; numberless
eye-lotions had to be prepared ; stores, straps, ropes, and
equipments had to be looked to ; presents to be given
to the Ilkhani's servants ; native shoes, with webbing
tops and rag soles, to be hunted for to replace boots
which could not be mended, and it was late before the
preparations were completed. During the night some of
my tent ropes were snapped by a stampede of mules,
and a heavy thunderstorm coming on with wind and
rain, the tent flapped about my ears till dawn.

It was very hot when we left the next morning. The
promised escort was not forthcoming. The details of
each day's march have been much alike. I start early,
taking Mirza with me with the shuldari, halt usually
half-way, and have a frugal lunch of milk and bis-
cuits, read till the caravan has passed, rest in my tent
for an hour, and ride on till I reach the spot chosen
for the camp. Occasionally on arriving it is found
that the place selected on local evidence is unsuit-
able, or the water is scanty or bad, and we march farther.



LETTER xv THE BAGGAGE ANIMALS 339

The greatest luxury is to find the tent pitched, the camp
bed put up, and the kettle boiling for afternoon tea.
I rest, write, and work till near sunset, when I dine
on mutton and rice, and go to bed soon after dark, as I
breakfast at four. An hour or two is taken up daily
with giving medicines to sick people.

There are no villages, but camps occur frequently.
The three young savages brought from Naghun are very
amusing from the savage freedom of their ways, but they
exasperate the servants by quizzing and mimicking them.
The cows are useless. Between them they give at most
a teacupful of milk, and generally none. Either the
calves or the boys take it, or the marches are too much
for them. In the Ilyat camps there is plenty, but as it
is customary to mix the milk of sheep, goats, and cows,
and to milk the animals with dirty hands into dirty
copper pots, and almost at once to turn the milk into a
sour mass, like whipped cream in appearance, by shaking
it with some " leaven " in a dirty goat-skin, a European
cannot always drink it. Indeed, it goes through every
variety of bad taste.

The camps halt on Sundays, and the men highly
appreciate the rest. They sleep, smoke, wash and mend
their clothes, and are in good humour and excellent trim
on Monday morning, and the mules show their uncon-
scious appreciation of a holiday by coming into camp
kicking and frolicking.

The baggage animals are fine, powerful mules and
horses, with not a sore back among them. The pack
saddles and tackle are all in good order. The caravan
is led by a horse caparisoned with many bells and tassels,
a splendid little gray fellow, full of pluck and fire, called
Cock o' the Walk. He comes in at the end of a long
march, arching his neck, shaking his magnificent mane,
and occasionally kicking off his load. Sometimes he



340 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER xv

knocks down two or three men, dashes off with his load at
a gallop, and even when hobbled manages to hop up to the
two Arabs and challenge them to a fight These handsome
horses have some of the qualities for which their breed is
famous, and are as surefooted as goate, but they are very
noisy, and they hate each other and disturb the peace of
the camp by their constant attempts to fight My horse,
Screw, can go wherever a mule can find foothold. He
is ugly, morose, a great fighter, and most uninteresting.
The donkeys and a fat retriever are destitute of "salient
points."

Hadji Hussein, the charvadar, has elevated his pro-
fession into an art. On reaching camp, after unloading,
each muleteer takes away the five animals for which he
is responsible, and liberates them, with the saddles on, to
graze. After a time they drive them into camp, remove the
saddles, and groom them thoroughly, while the saddler goes
over the equipments, and does any repairs that are needed.
After the grooming each muleteer, having examined the
feet of his animals, reports upon them, and Hadji replaces
all lost shoes and nails. The saddles and the juls or
blankets are then put on, the mules are watered in
batches of five, and are turned loose for the night to feed,
with two muleteers to watch them by turns. Hadji, whose
soft voice and courteous manners make all dealings with
him agreeable, receives his orders for the morrow, and he
with his young son, Abbas Ali, and the rest of the mule-
teers, camp near my tent, cook their supper of blanket
bread with mast or curds, roll their heads and persons iii
blankets, put their feet to the fire, and are soon asleep,
but Hadji gets up two or three times in the night to look
after his valuable property.

At 4 A.M. or earlier, the mules are driven into camp,
and are made fast to ropes, which are arranged the previous
night by pegging them down in an oblong forty feet by



LETTER xv HADJI HUSSEIN 341

twenty. Nose-bags with grain are put on ; and as the
loads are got ready the mules are loaded, with Hadji's help
and supervision. No noise is allowed during this operation.

After an hour or more the caravan moves, led by Cock
o' the Walk, usually with two men at his head to mode-
rate his impetuosity for a time, with a guide ; and Hadji
on his fine-looking saddle mule looks after the safety of
everything. He is punctual, drives fast and steadily, and
always reaches the camping-ground in good time. When
he gets near it he dismounts, and putting on the air of
" your most obedient servant," leads in Cock o' the Walk.
He is really a very gentlemanly man for his position, but
is unfortunately avaricious, and though he has amassed
what is, for Persia, a very large fortune, he wears very
poor clothes, and eats sparingly of the poorest food. He
is a big man of fifty, wears blue cotton clothing and a
red turban, is very florid, and having a white or very gray
beard, has dyed it an orange red with henna.

My servants have fallen fairly well into their work,
but are frightfully slow. All pitch the tents, and Hassan
cooks, washes, packs the cooking and table equipments,
and saddles my horse. Mirza Yusuf interprets, waits on
me, packs the tent furnishings, rides with me, and is
always within hearing of my whistle. He is good,
truthful, and intelligent, sketches with some talent, is
always cheerful, never grumbles, is quite indifferent to
personal comfort, gets on well with the people, is obliging
to every one, is always ready to interpret, and though
well educated has the good sense not to regard any work
as " menial." Mehemet Ali, the " superfluity," is a scamp,
and, I fear, dishonest. The servants feed themselves on
a kran (8d.) a day, allowed as " road money." Sheep
are driven with us, and are turned into mutton as re-
quired. Really, they follow us, attaching themselves to
the gray horses, and feeding almost among their feet.



342 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER xv

My food consists of roast mutton, rice, chapaltits, tea,
and milk, without luxuries or variety. Life is very
simple and very free from purposeless bothers. The days
are becoming very hot, but the nights are cool The
black flies and the sand-flies are the chief tormentors.

On leaving Ardal we passed very shortly into a region
little traversed by Europeans, embracing remarkable
gorges and singularly abrupt turns in ravines, through
which the Karun, here a deep and powerful stream, finds
its way. A deep descent over grassy hills to a rude
village in a valley and a steep ascent took us to the four
booths, which are the summer quarters of our former
escort, Rustem Khan, who received us with courteous
hospitality, and regaled us with fresh cow's milk in a
copper basin. He introduced me to twelve women and
a number of children, nearly all with sore eyes. There
is not a shadow of privacy in these tents, with open
fronts and sides. The carpets, which are made by the
women, serve as chairs, tables, and beds, and the low
wall of roughly-heaped stones at the back for trunks and
wardrobe, for on it they keep their " things " in immense
saddle-bags made of handsome rugs. The visible furni-
ture consists of a big copper bowl for food, a small one
for milk, a huge copper pot for clarifying butter, and a
goat-skin suspended from three poles, which is jerked by
two women seated on the ground, and is used for churn-
ing butter and making curds.

A steep ascent gives a superb view of a confused sea
of mountains, and of a precipitous and tremendous gorge,
the Tang-i- Ardal, through which the Karun passes, making
a singularly abrupt turn after leaving a narrow and
apparently inaccessible canon or rift on the south side of
the Ardal valley. A steep zigzag descent of 600 feet
in less than three-quarters of a mile brings the path
down to the Karun, a deep bottle-green river, now



LETTER xv STONE LIONS 343

swirling in drifts of foam, now resting momentarily in
quiet depths, but always giving an impression of volume
and power. Large and small land turtles abound in
that fiercely hot gorge of from 1000 to 2000 feet deep.
The narrow road crosses the river on a bridge of two
arches, and proceeds for some distance at a considerable
height on its right bank. There I saw natural wood for
the first time since crossing the Zagros mountains in
January, and though the oak, ash, and maple are poor and
stunted, their slender shade was delicious. Roses, irises,
St. John's wort, and other flowers were abundant

The path ascends past a clear spring, up steep zigzags
to a graveyard in which are several stone lions, rudely
carved, of natural size, facing Mecca-wards, with pistols,
swords, and daggers carved in relief on their sides, marking
the graves of fighting men. On this magnificent point
above the Karun a few hovels, deserted in summer, sur-
rounded by apricot trees form the village of Duashda
Imams, which has a superb view of the extraordinary and
sinuous chasm through which the Karun passes for many
miles, thundering on its jagged and fretted course between
gigantic and nearly perpendicular cliffs of limestone and
conglomerate. Near this village the pistachio is abundant,
and planes, willows, and a large-leaved clematis vary the
foliage.

Leaving the river at this point, a somewhat illegible
path leads through "park -like" scenery, fair slopes of
grass and flowers sprinkled with oaks singly or in clumps,
glades among trees in their first fresh green, and evermore
as a background gray mountains slashed with snow.

In the midst of these pretty uplands is the Ilyat
encampment of Martaza, with its black tents, donkeys,
sheep, goats, and big fierce dogs, which vociferously rushed
upon Downie, the retriever, and were themselves rushed
upon and gripped by a number of women. The people,



344 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER xv

having been informed of our intended arrival by Beza Kuli
Khan, had arranged a large tent with carpets and cushions,
but we pitched the camps eventually on an oak-covered
slope, out of the way of the noise, curiosity, and evil odours
of Martaza. Water is very scarce there, three wells or
pools, fouled by the feet of animals, being the only
supply.

I rested on my dhurrie under an oak till the caravan
came up. It was a sweet place, but was soon invaded,
and for the rest of the day quiet and privacy were out
of the question, for presently appeared a fine, florid,
buxom dame, loud of speech, followed by a number of
women and children, all as dirty as it is possible to be,
and all crowded round me and sat down on my carpet
This Khanum Shirin is married to the chief or headman,
but being an heiress she " bosses " the tribe. She brought
up bolsters and quilts, and begged us to consider themselves,
the whole region, and all they had as piskkash (a present
from an inferior to a superior), but when she was asked if
it included herself, she blushed and covered her face.
After two hours of somewhat flagging conversation she
led her train back again, but after my tent was pitched
she reappeared with a much larger number of women,
including two betrothed girls of sixteen and seventeen
years old, who are really beautiful

These maidens were dressed in clean cotton costumes,
and white veils of figured silk gauze enveloped them
from head to foot They unveiled in my tent, and
looked more like hmiris than any women I have seen in
the East ; and their beauty was enhanced by the sweet-
ness and maidenly modesty of their expression. I wished
them to be photographed, and they were quite willing,
but when I took them outside some' men joined the
crowd and said it should not be, and that when their
betrothed husbands came home they would tell them



LETTER xv THE KHANUM SHIRIN 345

how bold and bad they had been, and would have them
beaten. Although these beauties had been most modest
and maidenly in their behaviour, they were sent back
with blows, and were told not to come near us again.



Online LibraryIsabella L. (Isabella Lucy) BirdJourneys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 29)